Selling the friendly skies with sex - Curt Yeomans

Airlines have long used a variety of advertising gimmicks to get us to use them for our flying needs. There's been the jingles about what they do to help customers, the service-themed taglines, humor-filled advertisements, and even the occasional cartoon ads. The airlines have run the gamut of what they'll do to get our business.

But, then there are those commercials that used sex appeal to get us to want to fly on a particular airline. I'm not talking about the cheeky kind of sexual humor, like the Air New Zealand commercials from a couple of years ago that featured naked employees with uniforms painted on their bodies.

I'm talking about the kind of commercial that made us feel dirty afterward -- and in need of a cigarette. They do not come along too often, but they were stylishly done, and left you in awe of what you had seen at the end.

Are they needed? Probably not, but it does show a disturbing trend toward doing almost whatever it takes to sell something. We've seen it used in other industries, as well, ranging from automobiles, to cigarettes.

There are two particular examples that still stand out in my mind. First, way back in 1972, Southwest Airlines had an ad during its "Remember ..." advertising campaign, in which an airplane hostess is slowly strutting down the end of a runway. In a low, sultry voice, she begins the commercial by saying "Remember, when somebody else up there loved you ..."

Then, she continues with the sultry voice, talking about all the services Southwest offers its passengers. As she's talking, we start to hear a low rumble in the distance, and it keeps getting louder as she talks to us. Suddenly, we can make out a plane running down the runway, toward her.

Then, just as she mentions how often flights take off on time, the plane lifts off and zooms over her head, and the camera, while she's looking at her watch. She looks at the camera and says, "Remember?" in her sultry voice. She, then, turns around and begins slowly walking the other way down the runway.

But, that has nothing on the commercial Virgin Atlantic Airlines put out in 2009, to celebrate its 25th anniversary. Since Virgin Atlantic has limited destinations in the U.S., and does not fly in, or out of, Atlanta, you probably never saw this.

The entire commercial takes place at an airport in the United Kingdom, on a June day in 1984. It's implied that this is the day Virgin Atlantic launched. They went all out on the 1980's references, including a "yuppie" talking into a brick-sized cell phone, a teenager playing an arcade game, a Madonna look-a-like, and a punk rocker looking through records at a shop.

The "yuppie" starts things off as he's walking into the airport, talking on his cell phone. He stops dead in his tracks as he catches a faint glimpse of a vivacious blonde in a bright, red outfit. Then, they hit us with the music that truly sets the sex appeal in motion -- the instrumental accompaniment for Frankie Goes to Hollywood's song, "Relax."

Then, we see a bunch of thin, beautiful model-types, with bouncing hair, and matching bright, red, 1960's-style flight attendant uniforms (complete with red high heels) strutting in lock-step, in slow motion, through the airport with some Virgin Atlantic pilots. Everyone else stops in their tracks and stares.

Female employees from other airlines get panicked looks on their faces, as if they have shortness of breath.

Male and female passengers stare in lustful awe at the flight crew. One woman, apparently in her 40's, or 50's, gives a seductive smile to the captain of the flight crew, after he gave her a playful glance.

The commercial ends with the tagline, "Virgin Atlantic 25, Still red hot."

Woo, I don't smoke, but I think I need a cigarette after writing this column.

Curt Yeomans covers education for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753, ext. 247, or via e-mail at cyeomans@news-daily.com.